I make a product I invented called Maybe It's Marinade. It consists of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and pressed garlic as the base and comes in three varieties, AoliOliO, Dill, and Cayenne Pepper. All varieties also include garlic powder and pinch of salt. I package it in a 250 ml mason jar. I also place the jar in a cellophane bag as part of its packaging. Recently, a public inspector noticed the product and sunk his teeth into it concerning Botulism risks.

I've been making this for eighteen years. No one has ever gotten sick. I designed the product to be stored in the cupboard. Using cold pressed extra virgin olive oil I have never found the product to become awful, discolored, or smelly and I have set some aside in my house on several occasions for months and tested it on myself and found nothing wrong.

The product is not a method of storing garlic in the oil, with the other ingredients in the recipe, it becomes a bread dipping oil, cooking ingredient, and an addition to pasta sauce. The use of the mason jar provides a lid that is secure, but also very reusable and easy to open. I do not fill the oil to the top, so that the product can be shaken. It's a very interactive product in that it's spoon accessible, if that makes sense.

Can you provide some sort of pro and con overview? I only see articles on storing garlic in oil, not as an ingredient in a recipe. If there's a chance I will make people sick after eighteen years, I may have to stop making it. Thanks a heap.

  • Do you filter the pressed garlic or remove it in some way? Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 14:04
  • You might want to edit your question to clearly state a question that can be answered. Perhaps this question is one to look into: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/9146/…
    – johnny
    Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 14:12
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    Something of a non-sequitur, but could someone (OP, mod) please edit this and add ", oh my!" at the end of the title? Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 16:02
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    Botulism is tasteless, scentless and doesn't cause discoloration. So you can't really test for it like that. Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 16:06
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    How do you know nobody ever got sick?
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 14:40

10 Answers 10


As a health inspector for over 20 years, I am astounded by the lack of awareness that food safety controls are based on science and not on individual inspectors' personal fears and bad moods. Botulism control is based on some of the following facts: botulinum spores are commonly found in soil and on vegetable surfaces, botulinum grows in low or no oxygen envt., botulism has high virulence. (Virulence is a technical term for the fact that a high number of botulism victims end up dead (like Listeriosus of raw milk fame), in contrast to other food borne illnesses like Staph or Campyllobacter.) When considering the fact that botulinum grows slowly, and food borne illnesses whack people more often with weak immune systems, such as the elderly, the ill, and the very young, the food producer may have just been lucky that the product never created a problem, or the very real option that a problem was never narrowed down to the product.

As to the argument that old time recipes have been made for centuries, as in this case, (I am a bit of a foodie and Italian), the big difference is that many products were never made for mass production and or to stick around on shelves for long periods of time, and if so, any data, let alone food safety data, is unavailable for historic food products. In fact, the link between bacteria and illness was scientifically proven by Koch as late as the late 1800's. Another fact is that the CDC's data shows that outbreaks over the last 50 years are fewer, involve much higher number of victims and are more often associated with mass production and distribution of food. My health dept. receives notices of food recalls at least once a week.

In the case of botulism and fresh garlic in oil, it's considered so risky that acidification is required nationwide. In California, there is a state lab that specializes in evaluating botulism safety for commercial operations. (It's funded by taxes to keep cost to businesses low and is considered a public service.) I would recommend that producers contact their State health depts. and work with them to identify any and all options available for the canning and sale of any low acid food - including acidification, using dried ingredients, temperature control, flash heating (called a "kill step"). The majority of us inspectors truly focus on how to sell food safely and do not approach their jobs as stopping people from making a living. And surprise surprise we don't always think alike, just don't get me started. However, I'll finish with the following consideration of the implication that "life has it's many risks" argument that we inspectors hear often. When it comes to death, the public, the politicians and the members of responsible industry itself does not tolerate "a little death."

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    This is the kind of expert answer that SE aims to cultivate.
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 6:23
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    Top, except for the last sentence. A low risk of injury of death is routinely tolerated, and in fact the implication that we can categorically exclude incidents (for instance in commercial food production) is simply misleading. Zero risk doesn’t exist, there is always a risk involved. And the risk of botulism from homemake food is ridiculously low (less than 1 case in 10 years), and the risk of death even lower (7% death rate after infection). That is an acceptable risk by most standards (but of course violating food safety increases that risk). Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 18:42
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    Do the EU counterpart to CDC share your view? Here in Europe you can see garlic, chili and several other spices in olive oil "everywhere".
    – d-b
    Commented May 7, 2018 at 15:06
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    @d-b: The German BfR has a recommendation against household preparation of such oils that are intended to store over longer time bfr.bund.de/cm/343/… (1/2016), arguing that households do not have the means to ensure a safe product (e.g., no possiblity to measure pH). Interestingly, they say garlic-in-oil is a usual cause of botulism in North America. For Europe, they report 1 product recall (garlic in oil in 2003) and one outbreak from vegetables in oil 2015, so within 13 years. Europe vs... Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 16:09
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    NA differ in their C. botulinum strains (prevalent toxin), and also other epidemiologic characteristics (EU: ≈110 cases/year and 3 - 5 deaths for 450 mio inhabitants, USA ≈200 cases/year with 330 mio inhabitants), the difference may be due to a large proportion of infant botulism in NA (didn't find more precise info than that foodborne accounts for ≈1/4-1/5 of botulism cases in the US where 70 % of the cases are infant, while foodborne is the most prevalent category in the EU). Recommended home canning procedures also differ. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 16:40

Whether you are questioning it or not, what you are doing is not safe. Your dipping oil, while I am sure it is wonderful, is a textbook example of how to create botulism toxin. You should consider taking a sanitation course at your local community college. I did and, while I knew most of what was there, it does reinforce the knowledge.

You will not be able to tell if something you have created will cause botulism ahead of time. So the fact that everything seems OK is irrelevant.

Botulism is caused by a bacterium. You can kill the bacterium by taking the whole mixture to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (think pressure canning). Not useful for your recipe. Another suggestion is to refrigerate and acidulate, as the bacteria grow in low acid, anaerobic (no air) situations. Garlic in oil is considered to basically be anaerobic, which is why the problem.

Create your dipping oil just before use, keep in the refrigerator for a short period of time, and maybe consider adding some balsamic to it to kick up the acid level some. Or consider going with dehydrated garlic.

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    Your answer mentions this implicitly but perhaps it should be made explicit that while the botulinum bacteria can be killed quite easily, the spores are a lot tougher (i.e. survive temperatures up to 250°F and prolonged dryness) so most sterilization methods fail. Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 14:56
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    Yes. And the problem with garlic is that it's not dry, so even if you kill all the bacteria in it once, say by roasting, if you then put the undried garlic in oil, you might still cause the spores to regrow in the wet, anaerobic environment.
    – Harlan
    Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 17:08
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    I had another thought for you. If keeping the cold pressed olive oil cool isn't a real taste benefit for you one way or the other, you could try processing your mix in the jar in the oven at 275 for a while (I'd go with an hour, but your call). It shouldn't hurt the oil flavor (much?), will cause the water to boil off and the spores to be killed (assuming you get the temperature of the oil up over 250 for over 3 minutes). If the taste is still good, this should be safe. Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 17:28
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    Due to the separation that would occur, I don't see how adding balsamic (or any other acid) to the mix will inhibit the botulism. Unless the marinade is stored as a suspension or emulsification, the pH of the oil will not be altered much at all by the acidity of another layer below it. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 9:11
  • I have a pressure canner and want to make herb oil. If you pressure can it at 15 psi... problem solved? Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 22:25

The problem, to clarify, is that garlic cloves are neutral in pH, and have water in them, perfect for botulism to grow if they're stuck in an anaerobic place like a bottle of oil. So you need to do something to the garlic before soaking it in the oil. One thing you can do is to pickle the garlic in vinegar for a few days, then put the pickled cloves in oil. Different taste profile, but should still be good. And a hell of a lot safer!

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    It is true that acidification processes CAN be used to make garlic infusions safe, but the process must be thoroughly tested to ensure adequate acidity. There is a now an approved procedure involving citric acid for consumers which I discussed in an answer to a related question. However, just tossing whole cloves in vinegar for a couple days may NOT guarantee safety, since the acidity level may not be high enough and/or the acid may not penetrate the garlic sufficiently.
    – Athanasius
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:54

I see I'm late in the answering line here but I thought of a solution to keep the garlic flavor and eliminate the risk. I use garlic essential oil to add flavor to olive oil and butter. It only takes a drop and the flavor is great! There is no risk of contamination at all. Then you can keep your cold pressed olive oil pure and healthy as well. Essential oils come in pretty much every flavor imaginable and eliminate all the risk from any actual vegetation. I get my oils from New Directions Aromatics online. I also use them in baked goods instead of artificial flavorings.

  • I had no idea about garlic essential oil, but will be trying to find some now, how long does it last (shelf life out of fridge)? Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 6:33

I have been looking into this lately myself as I wante to do the same thing. The problem comes down to the spores, which grow in soil and can be dorment on any vegetation. Commercially they add acid to the ingredients, bringing it to the right level to keep the spores dorment. Pressure canning is another way to kill the spores by bringing the temperature up to 250° for 3 minutes.

Everyone suggests against soaking your vegetation in vinegar as it's very difficult to tell at what point it's acidic enough. The question I have is heat. I have not been able to find any reliable source to say bringing the temperature of the oil up to a certain level would be sufficient to kill the spores. Perhaps pressure canning the garlic by itself, making sure it gets hot enough to be safe and then putting it in the oil. The problem really comes down to contamination. If you get even one spore in the oil, the low oxygen environment is ripe for the botulism toxin to be formed.

As it has been stated, it's odorless, tasteless and very dangerous. I will keep going on my search and update if I find a reliable home use solution.

  • But heating garlic makes it sweet, which would significantly change the flavor profile, too. I mean, it'd solve the sterilization issue, but it'd have the same problem as acid (although, more consistant, I'd assume)
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 2:03
  • It's a tough thing either way as you have to do something to keep it safe. Anyway you look at it, if you want that raw garlic flavor, you are dealing with a volatile concoction. So which way can you go to assure it's safety and have the least change in flavor?
    – FoodTasted
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 2:29
  • nothing you can do. Either you pickle it until all the garlic flavour and water have been removed from the garlic and it's all acid, or you bake it so hard and long it's charred to a cinder.
    – jwenting
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 12:23
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    @jwenting- that is a pessimistic view. 250F is hardly "charred to a cinder". Commented May 26, 2011 at 14:54

Addendum to Scott's excellent answer:

Food safety inspectors want a pH of below 4.6 for a shelf-safe product. Because botulinium toxin is so dangerous (it's odourless and tasteless at the tiny concentrations that are lethal), it's not allowed to sell any prepared food that may develop it over time.

Buy some pH strips at the local pharmacy for testing, these are quite cheap, around $5 for 100, or get a digital pH meter (typically $50-$100) if you want to measure a bit more accurately.

Vinegar has a pH of around 2-3. The way pH works is that every multiplication of 10 in the concentration of H3O+ ions in a solution reduces it by 1, with a pH of 0 being concentrated hydrochloric acid (I.e. the stuff that melts through things).

Add a teaspoon of vinegar to reduce the pH of your garlic product, and the chance of botulism is greatly reduced, even if storing it for a long time. You don't need much to reach 4.5: a 1 to 100 ratio is enough if your vinegar has a pH of 2.5, for example.

You can also acidify the peeled cloves by leaving them in a 1:100 vinegar/water or 1:30 citric acid/water solution for at least 24 hours, before pressing and infusing them. Source: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/herb-infused-oils/#:~:text=To%20acidify%2C%20soak%20the%20garlic,limit%20of%20the%20botulism%20bacteria. (Note: they only tested citric acid and one type of recipe; so you'll need to do your own tests).

To test the results, take the garlic out of several jars, puree, dilute by 10x with distilled water (to make it liquid enough to measure easily), mix thoroughly, then test with a pH strip or preferrably meter. The result should be 5.5 or less. Take a bit of margin of error though; the goal usually is to have a high fraction like 99.9% of your product below the 4.6 threshold.


There are a TOTAL of 20-25 cases of food borne botulism in the U.S. per year.

How many Americans use garlic infused oil?

Is is more than 0.1% of the population?

Let's pretend 100% of the botulism comes form garlic in oil.

Let's pretend only about 330,000 out of 330,000,000 or so people in the entire U.S. have garlic in olive oil laying around in their kitchen.

VERY generous assumptions as far as the relevant population and incidence of garlic related botulism.

Would you use words like "risky, dangerous, unsafe" to describe such a situation?

I would not.

Real world data trumps theoretical hysteria EVERY TIME.


Oh, I was finally able to find real data, 1990-2000 number of cases of U.S. garlic in oil botulism.............. Four. Over ten years. Case closed. (by the way, that is under home canned category, no mention of any cases not involving canning)

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    “How many Americans use garlic infused oil? Is is more than 0.1% of the population?” — No, it’s probably orders of magnitude less (of people who use their own homemade garlic oil, stored for long time). That’s the problem with back-of-the-envelope risk assessments: if your assumptions are wrong, your results will be wildly off. The risk of botulism from this particular preparation is still low, but it’s not tiny, and a careful person should certainly not neglect it. Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 22:25
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    The question being asked is: may anyone die from consuming my garlic oil? Implication: one person is one too many. You're not answering that question. Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 11:50

ok I think the differance here might be the crushed garlic - as it ups the garlics own antibacterial etc propertics by 4000 percent versus the whole, minced or chopped garlic. I too use only freshly crushed garlic for this very reason and have never had a problem.

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    Even if the claim about the 4000% is correct and universally valid (which I highly doubt), this doesn't mean that contaminated garlic oil isn't deadly - the toxin remaining in the oil after the bacteria are dead being only the first of many reasons.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 19:41

I have been driving for 18yrs and never had an accident. Looking at the statics now it's possible to have an accident tomorrow. So I'll never drive again for the safety of my self and others. Botulism is real but you should be able to add citric acid or phosphoric acid to your recipe and store in the fridge without compromising the flavour and your product will be much safer.

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    I can't believe I have to say this, but the risks of food poisoning from risky food are much higher than the risks of everyday driving. And yes, adding acid to things can make them safe, but you need to know how much acid it takes - and generally it takes enough to make things pretty sour (think pickles). Not exactly something you want to do to everything you make.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 5:11

The problem here is that there's always a CHANCE of something happening, and that inspector was hell bend to find anything at all so they could shut you down, and they did. Unless (as already mentioned) you change your product to the point where it's nothing like it is now, has become no different from the bland, not worth the money, commercial offerings from the major large companies, you're left with no option but to stop production.

This same problem is hitting (and has already hit) thousand of small shops in the UK and elsewhere who produce traditional non-pasteurised cheeses, cheeses which cannot be made with pasteurised milk but require raw milk for the recipe to work. They all had to shut down except for a very few who could get an EU exception based on the "cultural value" or whatever of their product to the "health and safety regulations". Same with smalltown butchershops and some of their products, but at least they can go on selling the rest (but a lot of local products are gone, maybe permanently, out of a mostly misplaced fear of food poisoning caused by them (for which there never has been a documented case, it's all hearsay, rumours, and episodes with commercial products or caused by unhygienic conditions at customer sites being blamed on the products themselves when those products were in testing safe)).

Best you can probably do is shut down production and work only to order, going underground so to speak. Chances are so low of anything bad happening, in 18 years noone has gotten sick after eating your garlic (of course it could happen tomorrow, but you could get hit by a meteorite tomorrow as well, no reason to invest in a hard hat).

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    It is worth noting that the inspector isn't forcing the OP to stop making or eating the product- just to stop selling it. Your meteorite example doesn't work because he's putting not himself but his customers at risk. The level of risk is immaterial. Commented May 26, 2011 at 14:51
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    This isn't an answer, it's an off-topic rant. As the top answer says, raw garlic in oil isn't safe, especially at room temperature, and this is a very well-known fact. Furthermore it's entirely possible to prepare it in a way that isn't dangerous. This isn't a "misplaced fear", it's not hearsay and rumours, it's a well-known, well-documented food safety risk.
    – Aaronut
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 19:31
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    @Aaronut: I wouldn't say it is such a well known fact. At least not everywhere. Preserving garlic in oil is commonly done in many households in Italy, for instance (and, btw, I have never heard of a single case of botulism from it).
    – nico
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 18:42
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    @nico The problem is, even if the chance is low, a non-zero risk of death when a very simple change can make it zero is unacceptable. No exceptions. Also, the health department did inform the OP of the dangers. The OP has colored the encounter negatively ("and sunk his teeth into it concerning Botulism risks") because s/he is insulted/offended. That's entirely unimportant, because the risk of Botulism is very real. The net risk for a random person is low because most people don't buy home-canned garlic-oil. The net risk for someone consuming this product, as-is is quite a bit higher. Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 15:26
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    The fact that the number of cases of botulism reported in the US annually may be evidence that the work health inspectors have been doing for many years to prevent botulism outbreaks has been effective.
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 6:46

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